The intern job I applied for required a test to gauge my abilities. The agent sent me four query letters with the first ten pages of the manuscript and a full manuscript. (For confidentiality purposes, the names were redacted.) My “job” was to read the query letters and the accompanying pages. Then I needed to write a few sentences on whether I would ask for more pages or pass and why. As for the manuscript, I had to write a report detailing the plot summary, discuss strengths and weaknesses, and make a recommendation.

Here’s what I learned:

Query Letters & 1st ten pages

  • Too many names in query letters and the first ten pages make it difficult to read or follow along with the story line.
  • Too much back story is distracting to the reader and disconnects them from the story.
  • The query letter needs to clearly state the GOAL, MOTIVATION, and CONFLICT of the main character because the first ten pages cannot convey all that.
  • If you start with too much action, it loses the reader and distances them from the story.
  • One query letter didn’t even talk about the main character or the plot. The author only extolled the virtues of his/her writing.

Manuscript

  • Don’t rush to submit your book. If you’re sick of writing the same manuscript, set it aside and let it rest for a while. The MS I read was beautifully written, but the plot fell apart a third of the way into it. It required extensive editing and was too much time for the agent to take it on.
  • Ask your critique partners about the story’s timeline. Does it feel too hazy? Most of the time I couldn’t tell when the story moved on to a different day or the time of the day. It made me feel as if I were reading while drunk.
  • Make sure your character’s motivations are clear. If your main character’s aunt is suffering a mental breakdown and the mc is worried about her, but goes outside to weed the garden, explain why that’s more important. Otherwise, it pulls the reader out of the story and the character loses its creditability.

I hope you found these insights as helpful as I did. Hopefully, I’ll be able to share more in the future.